A Girl and Her Cow

Submitted into Contest #138 in response to: Write about a character who doesn’t want to go to sleep.... view prompt


American Coming of Age Historical Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of sexual violence.

It’s May 12th, 1933 somewhere in Oklahoma. I refuse to see the point in saying a city specifically because all of Oklahoma is the same to me right now. Just dirt; over and over again for endless miles, cannibalizing itself into tornadoes and storms that leave dust in our lungs and eyes. I don’t want to leave the stable, to go to sleep, to end this experience prematurely. It would be such a waste of clean air to spend it sleeping. 

I’m staring at my family’s last cow. A female. Kept inside and kept alive scarcely by our leftovers, as there’s no more grass outside to feed her with, nor was there enough to feed her calf; whose blood splattered my vision in what would be the last taste of beef we’d have for months. We keep her now just for her milk, which is barely what it used to be as flies cover her now shrinking body; just waiting for her to collapse so they can burrow their larvae before we can get to her. Selfish. But I guess I’d be a hypocrite if I said we weren’t either. 

She snuffs and snorts, chewing on her own tongue. I watch her silently, doing the same,


I hear my brother call from outside the barn, dry grass crunching and dying beneath every step he makes. His lantern shines through slits in the building, settling for a moment in the iris of our cow’s eyes,


I say back. Wishing it were truly the case,

“Stop playing jokes and get inside, it’s safer in the house ya know.” 

I’m thirteen and so I think I’m invincible, so I retort, 

“God Jim I know I just..can you just leave me alone?”

With the light that swings back and forth, it momentarily illuminates the hay-bale I’m sitting on, revealing the damp, blood-soaked stems,

“And don’t you dare think about coming in here.” 

I plead while something inside me screams, causing me to keel over my knees, the cow’s breath tickling wisps of hair on the back of my neck. 

We ran out of woman’s cloths since we used them all as masks for whenever the dust hit. I could probably ask my dad, but the thought of that makes me wanna keel over from shame, on top of the fact that he already has so many other things to worry about, so, I guess the hay works for now. Maybe the blood can satisfy the flies, or maybe give some extra protein to our cow..she’s a girl too, she would understand. After all, I was the one that had to help deliver her baby; I’m sure there’s a mutual understanding between us. 

With a sigh, my brother leaves us alone per my request. We listen to his footsteps recede again, blood still trickling through the now wet branches beneath my body.

She continues to breathe on my neck, and for one moment; I’m calm. 

It's a still night except for the sound of tumbleweeds growing outside, and the chirping cicadas who can’t dig underground because it’s too dry. Sometimes I help them, but they’ll just die anyway. 

Everything around here just dies and dies and never grows back, and so I find myself asking every day why we don’t just leave. Not many kids are left here anyway, and I find myself exploding with the loneliness of just having this depressing cow here to talk to,

“I’m sorry about your calf”. 

I decide to say before handing her a handful of my bloody hay, which she desperately starts to chew,

“May I ask what it’s like to be a mother?” 

I hand her another piece of grass,

“What’s happening to me right now means I can be one if I want to right? Should I?” 

And another,

“Maybe that would be the easiest way out of here.” 

And another. 

Her eyes are staring right through me as excess grass tumbles down the gate in globs of spit and blood, smelling like iron and pumpkins simultaneously. 

I sigh, feeling as though a barred gate of my own is wrapped around my thighs, stabbing through my dirtied and scratched skin.

As much as it’s crazy, I convince myself in my hunger and teenage insanity that she understands me. Flies sit on her long eyelashes, her tail hanging depressedly between her legs with no motivation or energy to bat the ones that surround her hindquarters. 

Being a mother isn’t something you can understand from the outside. You can’t possibly understand, little calf.  

That is what I think I hear her say. 

And maybe it’s through boredom or curiosity, but I suddenly feel the urge to understand. And so, I crawl underneath her, my knees crushing pebbles that leave sinking imprints on my skin. 

I dodge her droppings as I sit underneath her utters, admiring the complexity to which the whole thing is situated. She doesn’t seem to notice or care, or maybe she does, I’m sure she does. I’m just wearing a white nightgown that I’ve started to outgrow, however, we can’t afford to buy a new one, which means I end up feeling the weight of my growth, of who I’m turning into. 

Piercing pains jab around the sides of my hips and my lower back, so I arch, bringing me upward closer to her nipples, which look sad and deflated. 

I don’t know how long it’s been; how long I’ve been sitting here, or what it takes to have a baby. 

“Shh quiet up! My sis is somewhere around here Mel.” 

I hear whispers walking around the backside of the barn, my brother’s familiar raspy voice. It never used to sound like that, but ever since the start of the dust storms, it never seems to sound clear anymore. 

A girl’s voice trails slightly behind him, softer and higher, like a hummingbird talking to a beaver,

“Jim, can’t we go somewhere inside? I mean..the dust.” 

They’re right behind me and my cow now. I’m frozen. 

“Shh Mel you know I can’t, you know how my Pa is…”

It’s silent for a moment. A breeze begins to whip up outside, she stifles a cough. My brother sighs. 

“Damn Mel just come here! I can’t stand it no longer.” 

What can he no longer stand?

Suddenly, three large bangs rattle the back of the wood behind me, causing my cow to stir, 

“Mel you in there still?” 

I don’t reply.

“Jim..I don’t know.” She hesitantly chirps.

He starts to get frustrated, his voice rising and falling with the picking up of the wind throughout the barn. Dust is disturbed from the floor, tickling my nose. It takes all of me to hold the urge to sneeze, I grab ahold of my cow’s leg for support.

“Just shut up and come here.” 

I hear a large exhale of breath, then another, and another. 

A belt buckle is loosening, something or someone is hitting the wood, over and over again. 

I still don’t know how long it’s been; how long I’ve been sitting here, or what it takes to have a baby..or..maybe. 

“Oh, Jim-” 

I hear a grunt, a light groan from her, more thuds against the wood, over and over again. I don’t know if the breeze hitting the back of my head is from the wind and dust or her repetitive breath. 

My cow seems unalarmed, still chewing, 

See? You don’t know anything

I imagine her saying. 

The wind picks up again, a little more furiously this time. Our nearly retired tractor creaks next to our rusted swing which I can hear hitting my favorite childhood tree over and over again just like her frame against the wood behind me. Birds that haven’t migrated begin to coo hurriedly and alarmingly North, their continuous warnings suddenly awakening me to the present, breaking me out of my trance at imagining what was happening behind the wood. Wheat and barley whistle and fall atop each other in the distance, almost sounding like shuffling playing cards. Even though it’s nighttime, the room still finds a way to grow darker, with an ominous feeling that could only mean one thing. 

I hear the girl fall to the dirt and Jim groaning again, but they’re beginning to be drowned out by the sound of something that’s plagued my nightmares and daily life for the past two years. 

Our cow starts to shuffle around me, her hoof stomping on my hand, finally giving me permission to yell out by accident, 


Jim screams through the approaching storm. It seems he heard my presence. The girl raises her voice, I hear his belt buckling, her tripping as wind rips through the slits of wood in the barn,

“Oh my god, Jim look!” 

She screams but I can barely hear her as I’ve covered my own ears. 

My cow speaks again, 

That’s what they get for sinning like that. She’ll understand now what it means to be a mother.

I can barely hear them crash into the barn, but by that time I can’t even see them. 

There’s no point in running away, the dust always finds a way into every crack and crevice, job, dream, and life. My eyes are shut tight as I thrust my arms across my face but I’m not fast enough. It stings my eyes and lungs and scratches my body in millions of vicious bites. Our cow is frantic as she falls next to me, shaking the floor even further, and as I hear the barn falling apart by its seams like a crackling fire over and over again, I shuffle to the side of her head, feeling rocks and wood and grime slash at my exposed skin. The girl cries out, Jim’s yelling. 

I put her head in between my legs as I cover her in my blood-soaked, but wet clothes, hoping to shield her from breathing in the outside air. I’m clutching her neck and crying into her fur as we wait out a storm with no eye. I hear shillings rip away from our house outside, coupled with buckets blowing from one end of the farm to another, window shutters breaking off from the force, our father screaming our names from inside. I should've just gone to sleep.  

The cow speaks again one last time, 

Little calf, perhaps you do know.

March 25, 2022 03:39

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